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In 1986, McDermott’s 2 Hours was founded by Nick Burbridge. Two years later, The Levellers, who cite McDermott’s 2 Hours as a “major formative influence”, formed. The Levellers would cover McDermott’s 2 Hours “Dirty Davey” on their third self-titled album, as well as other songs, including, “Prisoner” as a B-side. In 2001, the two bands released their first collaborative effort, World Turned Upside Down. Over the next three years, they would release two more albums: Claws and Wings and Disorder.
Now fifteen years later (no reference to The Levellers classic intended), Simon Friend and Jeremy Cunningham from The Levellers and McDermott’s 2 Hours are back. This time they are also joined with Dil Davies and Al Scott from Oysterband. Produced by Al Scott (who produced The Levellers albums Levelling the Land, Zeitgeist and Green Blade Rising), Tim Cotterell and Jeremy Cunningham; the expectations for this new release, Besieged, are exceptionally high.
Besieged booms with a powerful opening track, Firebird, which has some similarities to The Levellers, Survivor. This powerful folk-rock song also has equally powerful lyrics with references to ashes and fire. Erin Farewell follows. Erin Farewell does everything a traditional folk song is supposed to do; tell a wonderful story of struggle, faith and perseverance. The lyrics, “I worked on the land of my father’s right hand”, “The truth is never easy to tell”, “we never missed mass and my sins I confess” and “the site work was hard and the foreman a bastard” demonstrate that original stories within folk songs have not merely survived, but have a bright future.
The Warrior Monk stands out because of the many similarities it shares with Bruce Springsteen’s, This Is Your Sword. Whilst Springsteen laid the sturdy and secure foundations; The Warrior Monk builds upon these with more aggression, telling stories about tragedy, suffering, rape, war, sacrifice, jihad and the Middle East. The Last Mile echoes The Pogues musical influences whilst offering inspiring and yet chilling lyrics about being a pawn in someone else’s game including: “Can you make the last mile and break through the line… and so they divide us one from another and swear to their causes we have to defend”. The lyrics used in the stories of each of the tracks offers something unique, are easy to follow and serve to excavate a plethora of emotions within listeners. All that Fall (which shares musical similarities with McDermott’s 2 Hours, Prisoner) tells the tale of “the reaper and his player” which sends chills with lyrics: “Singing black is the colour as you lay your own daughter to bed”. Crossed Lines questions, “how can you hear me if you won’t listen” “you’re dealing with a demon, you trade with your soul”. The upbeat, The Damned Man’s Polka, whilst heavily influenced and embedded with Anglo-Irish roots, will universally get everyone on the dance floor and analysing the lyrics: “Turn to the path of righteousness and all your frailties confessed yield to me all you possess and ‘ill lead you through the wilderness”. The lyrical wonders across Besieged are many and go hand in hand with the folk music soundtrack McDermott’s 2 Hours, The Levellers with Oysterband have composed.
This Child will remind Levellers fans of songs like Medusa and Mutiny. Besieged takes indirect influences from Mark Chadwick’s All the Pieces, taken from his debut solo album of the same name. Playout track, The Ring is the perfect cooldown to an intense but highly elating and spiritual workout with mellow, yet spiritually haunting flute and fiddle arrangements not too dissimilar to those featured on The Levellers No Change. Simon Friend and Nick Burbridge’s vocal styles are borderline symmetrical. Burbridge’s impeccable diction allows him to be a master raconteur on Besieged.
Besieged not only gives the best of Burbridge as a musician, but also as a poet, playwright and novelist. Whilst the majority of the tracks on Besieged draw significant influence from The Levellers, Besieged is anything but another Levellers album via another proxy; it is a collective of independent cohesion. Besieged is an album that will extinguish the notion that established and exceptional musicians like Nick Burbridge and The Levellers have peaked. Based on this; the best is yet to come.